“Exile” Reissue On Day Two: Listening To The Stones Peak

Some thoughts, after having lived with the deluxe set (including the DVD and the booklet):

  1. Anthony DeCurtis has put together an elliptical, very well crafted set of notes on the creation of Exile On Main Street.  One point Jagger makes, and which Anthony wisely develops, is that by having Nicky Hopkins, Bobby Keys, and Jim Price on premises, rather than calling in a piano player or charting horns as needed, their very proximity insured their organic use.  With all the mythology around Nellcote, with Keith talking about “living above the factory,” perhaps the biggest impact on the music from that working arrangement is that the Stones’ optimized sound, which sprang to life in that basement, came from something so simple as the availability not just of heroin and hangers on, but killer instrumentalists who could add such a great dimension to the sound.
  2. Now that the Stones have released excerpts from Ladies and Gentlemen, The Rolling Stones” — on the DVD, we have “Happy” and “All Down The Line” — what, exactly, is the reason this movie can’t now find its way into an HD DVD release?
  3. The credits, both on the original and on the deluxe re-release, don’t seem to tell the whole story.  David Gates’ Rolling Stone piece states that Jimmy Miller needed to play drums on a key passage of “Tumbling Dice” — no credit here.  Aren’t those steel drums at the end of the original “Loving Cup”?  No credit, if that’s the case… There are more mysteries.
  4. The narrative about Exile has pretty much centered around Keith.  It was his house, the riffs the songs are wrapped around have his DNA, and his is the larger-than-life eminence over all.  And yet it must be said, Jagger never sang better than on this album.  If you look at the credits, the photos, Jagger is everywhere.  Sure, maybe he was tending to the pregnant Bianca in Paris some of the time, and yes, while Keith nodded out, the Stones could not really come out to play.  But Jagger’s impact on this record is extraordinary and every bit the counterpart to his Glimmer Twin.  Never really thought about that til now, but listening to the gloriously remastered CD several times in succession, the standout presence is Mick.
  5. Has there ever been an album where the drums sounded better?  Think of Charlie’s entrance on just these songs: “Rocks Off,” “Tumbling Dice,” and “Loving Cup.”  Kickin’ the stall all night.  In the booklet, he says that the basement created a great sound for the drums.
  6. The combination of Nicky Hopkins and Mick Taylor — both incredibly lyrical musicians, virtuosi, clearly gentler souls than some of the rougher blokes around, but musically no pushovers — are the ingredients that make the confection work.  There have been thousands of words written about the Stones’ Golden Age centering on portentous world events, the death of the ’60s, revolution in the air, etc.  Methinks it can be traced to two elements. Nicky and Mick.
  7. Although live, the Stones still had the three great tours ahead of them (’72 America, ’73 Hawaii, Australia, Nicaraguan Earthquake benefit, ’73 Europe tour with Billy Preston, not Nicky), there is a late August feel to Exile. The leaves are just about to turn, but damn, the sunsets are beautiful, the light clear, the days crisp and clear. By the time Andy Johns mixed the tapes in Sunset Studio, the Stones had nowhere to go but down.  There were some good moments — a song or three on Goats Head Soup, a brief rebirth with Some Girls and Emotional Rescue. But the saddest thing about listening to Exile On Main Street is the knowledge that when the Stones came up out of the Nellcote basement, The Greatest Rock’n’Roll Band In The World had peaked.

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